Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a runaway mine coaster in the Disney Parks, located in Frontierland. It is called Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Big Thunder Mountain in Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland.

Backstory[edit | edit source]

Each Big Thunder Mountain Railroad exists within the same continuity as an extension of the same story albeit featuring different locations, characters and periods of history. All of them share revolving around Big Thunder Mountain, a mountain range in the Western River Valley of Arizona during the 19th century. Big Thunder Mountain is home to the powerful Spirit of Big Thunder (also known as The Thunderbird) which uses its powers to cause natural-disasters and accidents in retaliation to the colonial Big Thunder Mining Company which extorts gold from the mountain. In addition to this, the trains of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad which serves the mining company run out of control, possessed by spirits or ghosts from the mountain.

Disneyland[edit | edit source]

Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain is set in the mining-town of Rainbow Ridge, a mining-town named for the phosphoric Rainbow Caverns it was built by. Rainbow Ridge was established in 1869 and home to different mining operations until 1879 when the Big Thunder Mining Company came to the town for more lucrative mining.[1]. Due to the corruption of nature's wonderland, the town became plagued by earthquakes, territorial disputes, outlaws and mining-accidents. Despite their best efforts, the citizens in the town began to look elsewhere and the population shrunk to only a few dozen people

Walt Disney World[edit | edit source]

Walt Disney World's version of the attraction is set in the town of Tumbleweed in the 1880s, Tumbleweed holding the headquarters of the Big Thunder Mining Company. During this time the Big Thunder Mining Company was going through heavy changes under the eye of company president Barnabas T. Bullion, a wealthy member of the Bullion mining family who believed that Big Thunder's gold was his birthright. The changes of the company were largely the result of Bullion retaliating against the spirit of Big Thunder's interfering with his business.

Barnabas T. Bullion was a member of the international secret society known as the Society of Explorers and Adventurers and used his connections from the society to assist in his overhaul. Through the society's president, the inventor Jason Chandler, Bullion obtained a large number of experimental and advanced steam-powered mining-equipment which he used with little success to further his goals. Despite this, accidents and natural disasters persisted throughout Tumbleweed.

Tumbleweed would suffer from an intense drought which weaned out much of its population and attract the attention of snake-oil salesman Prof. Cumulus Isobar. Isobar intended to con the town by promising to bring them rain from his charlatanizeid, "Rain machine" then fleeing town after he was paid for his services. Before Isobar had the chance to make his getaway however, the spirit of Big Thunder flooded Tumbleweed and marooned his carriage in the town.

Disneyland Paris[edit | edit source]

Disneyland Paris' Big Thunder is set in the town of Thunder Mesa, the first mining-town established in the Big Thunder region. The company was established by a twisted man named Henry Ravenswood in 1849 when he happened upon gold in the mountain-peak on Big Thunder Island while spending time in a trading outpost with the native Shoshone people. Henry founded the Big Thunder Mining Company and used brute force to chase out the Indigenous peoples of the region and forcing them on the outskirts of the town.

Henry became a very wealthy man through his amoral mining business and built himself a large estate overlooking the town. In this manor he had a family in the form of his wife Martha Ravenswood and his daughter Mélanie Ravenswood of whom he was emotionally-abusive and domineering, never letting her leave the mansion for most of her life. When Mélanie became a young-woman, Henry began targeting her suitors and murdering them as a means of keeping his grip over the young belle's life.

Around 1860, Mélanie became romantically involved with a foreman for the Big Thunder Mining Company named Jake who she wished to leave town with. Before Henry had a chance to claim another victim, an earthquake struck Thunder Mesa which collapsed a massive portion of the town into a dip which would come to be known as Phantom Canyon. Amongst the dead were Henry Ravenswood, Martha, the mayor and the sheriff which lead to a temporary cease in Big Thunder Mountain's mining-operations. Since that day, the trains of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ran out of control as-if they were possessed by unseen spirits.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Disneyland[edit | edit source]

Guests board the trains of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad from the mining-town of Rainbow Ridge and are immediately taken into a cavern filled with bats. The trains then pass overtop of Rainbow Ridge's famous Rainbow Caverns and through a waterfall where it starts to traverse the mountainside. Along the way the trains pass by many animals such as a coyotes, opossums and a goat chewing on dynamite. It goes on to enter a large cavern where lit fuses connected to explosives start to ignite and just as fire and smoke starts to erupt around the guests, they divert an unfortunate mining accident. The trains eventually stop in the town of Rainbow Ridge after passing under the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex where the riders may disembark.

Walt Disney World[edit | edit source]

The Magic Kingdom's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has guests enter the headquarters of the Big Thunder Mining Company in Tumbleweed, Arizona. They pass through the offices and work-decks of the mining company where they find indications of Bullion's ignorance, the poor conditions which workers are kept in and of the corruption of company foreman G. Willikers. Guests also pass through a bay containing the machinery of Jason Chandler such as a vent system which has canaries test air-conditions from above ground and machines, lenses which watch miners working in the caverns, and large air-pumping machines. Eventually the guests board their trains from an open mine and are set out on the wildest ride in the wilderness.

The trains pass through a cavern filled with bats and over a series of glowing phosphorus pits. before exiting the caves through a waterfall. The trains then start to race around the mountain, encountering animals along the way. The trains also pass through the flooded town of Rainbow Ridge where resident, "Cousin Elrod" is floating blissfully in a bathtub, con-man Cumulus Isobar attempts in vain to keep water out of his sinking caravan, a goat chews on dynamite from a rooftop and where townsfolk party in the Gold Dust Saloon at night. The trains proceed into the mine known as, "Dave V. Jones' Locker" before emerging back onto the mountain, past a geyser plateau and eventually under the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex where the riders may disembark.

Disneyland Paris[edit | edit source]

Guests board a raft in Thunder Mesa over the Rivers of the Far West to Big Thunder Island which holds the peak used by the mining company. While traversing the mountain's offices and mines guests encounter references to Thunder Mesa residents such as Will Ketchum, B.A. Hero, Mr. Nutzan Bolts, May Q. Tipsy, I. Gotcha, Willie Maykit, Doug De Hohl, Phil De Hohl and C.N. De Darke.[2] Guests go on to board the railroad which traverses Big Thunder Island and its mountain's caverns.

The guests then board their trains which dip down a mine into a black cavern where yellow glowing eyes stare at guests from the shadows. The trains go on to pass through a cavern overtop of glowing pits and then through a waterfall. The trains then begin to pass through the mountain, dropping down to the Rivers of the Far West for a splash down. They then pass by a miner's hut where a goat chews at his laundry much to his dismay and then go on a lift-hill nearby a base for the Big Thunder Mining Company. After this, the trains pass through a cavern filled with lit explosives which start to ignite and just as fire and smoke starts to erupt around the guests, they divert an unfortunate mining accident.

Tokyo Disneyland[edit | edit source]

Spin-offs[edit | edit source]

Attractions[edit | edit source]

Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars[edit | edit source]

One of the towns connected through the sign and advertisement is Grizzly Gulch, Hong Kong Disneyland's western-themed land. They have their own runaway mine coaster, called Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, set in the fictitious Grizzly Gulch, California. Grizzly Gulch was established on August 8, 1888 - the luckiest day of the luckiest month of the luckiest year. However, the townspeople ran into trouble when they discovered they had built their town on a field of geysers. The town was literally sinking and their fortunes went with it.

Their luck turned around, when Captain Phineas Cosgrove went exploring around Big Grizzly Mountain. He came across a family of three bears scratching their backs against the mountain. When they left, he found traces of gold and staked his claim, starting the Big Grizzly Mountain Mining Company. Large ores and nuggets of gold were discovered and the town prospered, becoming the ‘luckiest town in the west’. The bear family became mascots for the town, nicknamed Rocky, Motherlode, and Nugget. They were protected by the citizens, in hopes that it would keep their luck going.

Printed materials[edit | edit source]

Disney Kingdoms: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad[edit | edit source]

Connections[edit | edit source]

The Apple Dumpling Gang[edit | edit source]

The Apple Dumpling Gang is referenced throughout the queue for Walt Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The Big Thunder Mining Company's boarding-house is stated as being run by one Liddy Stockley, a character taking her name from Mrs. Stockley in the film.[3] There are also multiple allusions in this same queue to the Hash Knives Gang having commit crimes such as attempting to rob T.W. Bullion, a relative of S.E.A. member Barnabas T. Bullion.[4]

There are also advertisements for the Butterfly Stageline, a service founded and run by Colonel T.R. Clydesdale from the film who was the father of the film's deuteragonist Dusty. This stage-line is stated to connect to Big Thunder Mountain towns such as Tumbleweed, Rainbow Ridge and Thunder Mesa. Other locations listed include Quake City and Fort Concho, both being locations featured in the Apple Dumpling Gang films.[5]

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad[edit | edit source]

The different incarnations of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad often possess story connections to their counterparts. The logo of the Big Thunder Mining Company is seen in every version of the attraction - a circle with BTM imposed between them. It is hanging off of the attraction sign in the Magic Kingdom, on plaques and letters in the queue in Disneyland, and on the gates for Disneyland Paris.

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Disneyland[edit | edit source]

A portrait of Barnabas T. Bullion can be found in the Panhandle Hotel in Rainbow Ridge at the end of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland.[6] Near the end of the attraction in Disneyland, there is a sign that points to different locations with how far apart they are from each other. It points to Rainbow Ridge (Disneyland), Tumbleweed (Magic Kingdom), Thunder Mesa (Paris) and Grizzly Gulch (Hong Kong). The distances are references to their real world locations.

Walt Disney World[edit | edit source]

In the queue in the Magic Kingdom, there's an advertisement for cross-country carriage rides, that travel between towns like Thunder Mesa, Rainbow Ridge, and Tumbleweed.[7] Additionally in the headquarters of the Mining Company is a portrait of the fictitious Big Thunder Mountain range which shows the different parks' mountain peaks and rock formations from the defunct Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland as part of the same range.

Disneyland Paris[edit | edit source]

When Big Thunder Mountain in Paris reopened in 2016 after a refurbishment, a newsletter called the Thunder Mesa Daily Messenger was handed out to commemorate it. The newsletter contained an advertisement for cruises on the Western River Line. The cruise goes through Thunder Mesa, Rainbow Ridge, and Tumbleweed on the Rivers of the Far West. It connects the lands not just by story, but by location[8].

Carolwood-Pacific Railroad[edit | edit source]

The Butterfly Stage Line is stated to connect to the Carolwood-Pacific Railway. In real-life, this was a miniature, rideable railroad created by Walt Disney which partly inspired Disneyland's creation.

Country Bears Jamboree[edit | edit source]

There is a sign in the queue for the Magic Kingdom's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad advertising the "Mile Long Bar" as being a feature in the Tumbleweed saloon The Tall Tale Inn run by folk-hero Pecos Bill.[9] The Mile Long Bar was a saloon located adjacent to the Country Bears playhouse, the home of the Country Bears. In the Magic Kingdom the saloon building it was located in had the date 1878 written for the building's construction while the Critter Country version had the year 1902.[10]

Discovery Bay[edit | edit source]

Bullion bought the mining drill off of S.E.A. president Jason Chandler. They became friends and went on expeditions, together. In a letter that can be found in the queue in the Magic Kingdom, Chandler urged Bullion to stop the mining, warning of the ill that would come to the towns. He ended the letter by hoping that Bullion will visit S.E.A., soon. In Disneyland, one of Chandler's trunks can be found in the Big Thunder Trail outside of the attraction, presumably heading to Rainbow Ridge.

Haunted Mansion[edit | edit source]

Jason Chandler contacted Madame Zarkov at the Museum of the Weird to for advice on Barnabas T. Bullion's mining operations. The Museum of the Weird originates from an unbuilt expansion planned for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion.

Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland[edit | edit source]

Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland also known as Rainbow Caverns Mine Train was the attraction which proceeded Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Many elements of Nature's Wonderland would be recycled and homaged for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This including the town of Rainbow Ridge, the rainbow caverns of Big Thunder Mountain, the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, the naming and origins of Big Thunder Mountain itself, and several animals. Additionally the prospector voiced by Dallas McKennon who narrated the attraction provides the safety spiel for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

A portrait of the mountain-range in Walt Disney World's Big Thunder shows the Natural Arch bridge of the Living Desert as part of Big Thunder's rock work. In Disneyland Paris, Big Thunder Mining Company founder Henry Ravenswood had a quote referencing the attraction which said, "From the first nugget discovered in its heart, to the booming economy that Big Thunder Mountain ensures for the town of Thunder Mesa, we, at Big Thunder Mining Co., are forever grateful for Nature's Wonders".

Phantom Manor[edit | edit source]

The story of Thunder Mesa is further expanded in Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris. Henry Ravenswood was the master of Ravenswood Manor and posthumously became its malevolent Phantom. Big Thunder Mountain's peak is also visible from Phantom Canyon which is explored in the ride's climax.

Pirates of the Caribbean[edit | edit source]

Both Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris' Big Thunder Mountain Railroads feature the character of Beacon Joe. Joe is a character originating through Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean where he was shown to be a resident of the Blue Bayou outside of New Orleans. Additionally, outside of Tumbleweed is a mining-cavern labelled as, "Dave V. Jones' Locker" which is an apparent allusion to Davy Jones' Locker from nautical folklore and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Henry Ravenswood also possessed a portrait of Jones' ship The Flying Dutchman which he kept in Ravenswood Manor.

Pleasure Island[edit | edit source]

Madame Zarkov who warned Barnabas through Jason Chandler of working in the mountain is a character from the Adventurers Club of Pleasure Island. She originally appeared as a member of the Adventurers Club, a splinter organization of SEA created by Merriweather Adam Pleasure. Additionally, the Rainbow Ridge Marshall Willard P. Bounds is the father of Lillian Disney, the namesake of the Empress Lilly steamship.

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room[edit | edit source]

A bird-cage within the Tumbleweed headquarters of the Big Thunder Mining Company reads, "Rosita" while being empty. This was done as an allusion to Rosita and her absence in the Tiki Room though it is unknown if this is intended to be a lore-connection to Rosita or simply an easter-egg.

Tropical Hideaway[edit | edit source]

An ore from Bullion's 1970 expedition of the Colorado River is on display here, along with other S.E.A. members.

Other[edit | edit source]

  • There is a crate belonging the Freemason figure Hiram Abiff on the docks of the Magic Kingdom's Big Thunder.[11]

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Based off of advertisements in the Thunder Mesa Daily Messenger, it is theorized that Tokyo Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad might be set in the town of Stillwater Junction.
  • The Legends of Frontierland role-playing game at Disneyland depicted a battle for territory between Rainbow Ridge and Frontierland.
  • Nothing official has addressed the contradiction of Henry Ravenswood and Barnabas T. Bullion both being the alleged founders of the Big Thunder Mining Company given that Thunder Mesa exists within the Society of Explorers and Adventurers universe. However, some fans have theorized that they were owners at different points in time. This coming from how Big Thunder Mountain is canonically set during the 1880s while Henry only ran the company from its founding in 1849 to his death in 1860 leaving a 40 year gap where Bullion could have heard of the mountain's legendary treasure and come into ownership of the lands/company.
    • Ravenswood was likely an influence on Bullion, as they share many similarities. They both ignored the warnings about Big Thunder Mountain. They are both known for their greed and stubbornness. They both have daughters they are overprotective of - Melanie and Abigail, respectively (although Abigail's canonicity in the Disney Parks cannon is not known).
    • The Magic Kingdom queue for the Big Thunder which cites Barnabas as the founder of the mining company also cites Jason Chandler as founder of S.E.A.. Given how that information was erroneous with SEA having been founded centuries earlier and Chandler later being revealed to have been a secretary under president Vitale Robustelli, this might give weight to the information that Bullion was founder needing to be taken with grains of salt.

References[edit | edit source]

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